Sea World WhistleBlower: Trainer Death Caused by Park’s Negligence

Former SeaWorld safety chief Linda Simons claims she was fired for talking too much to federal investigators following the February death of trainer Dawn Brancheau by the killer whale Tilikum. Simons, who started work at SeaWorld in Orlando one week before the drowning, has filed a federal whistleblower complaint.  Simons says that just two weeks before the drowning, SeaWorld held a safety drill that went so badly – staffers did not show up or barely paid attention – that it was scheduled to be repeated a month later.  However, before a new drill could be conducted, on February 24, 2010, the 6 ton killer whale Tilikum pulled trainer Brancheau under by her ponytail, dragged the trainer around the tank, scalping her and breaking her neck as well as drowning her, as tourists watched in horror.  The response was very chaotic.  It took 30 minutes to retrieve her body.  ABC News Full Article

Linda Simons was fired from her job at SeaWorld in the wake of the investigation.  Simons claims SeaWorld withheld documents from Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators and blocked interviews with trainers that might have been critical.  Simons is now speaking out on what she calls questionable or even dangerous safety practices at the Florida park that could result in another tragedy.  Sea World released a statement regarding Simons’ accusations and saying she “used the threat of negative publicity to seek a sizable monetary payment from SeaWorld in exchange for her not going public with these false allegations.”  Read more: NY Daily News Full Article

Under New York Labor Law §740, public and private employers cannot discipline or take retaliatory action against employees who disclose or threaten to disclose activities, policies or practices that violate laws or regulations or threaten public health or safety.  The protections extend to public employees who disclose to a governmental body information that they reasonably believe to be an improper governmental action.  Aggrieved employees can sue for reinstatement, back-pay and benefits and may be entitled to courts costs and attorney fees.  A prevailing employer may recover court costs and attorney fees if the suit is not based on law or fact.

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